Albany, NY: New York State legislators will join a statewide coalition to launch an aggressive legislative campaign to create safer consumption spaces (SCSs), also known as supervised injection facilities (SIFs), in New York State. The coalition, known as “End Overdose NY,” is comprised of public health and healthcare professionals, faith leaders, family members of those struggling with opioid dependency, drug treatment providers as well as people in recovery, and those still actively using drugs. Speakers will focus on the urgent need for these life-saving programs in the wake of New York’s overdose crisis which kills more people than traffic accidents, homicides and suicides combined. In addition, the coalition will point to how states and cities across the nation have taken steps to implement the well-researched facilities.
Earlier in the day, the coalition held a legislative briefing on the “End Overdose New York” drug policy platform, a 3-point program for a comprehensive and compassionate response to ending overdose across the state.
Speakers urged New York State to pass the Safe Consumption Services Act (A8534). The act would allow health departments to authorize community based organizations to establish safer consumption spaces (SCSs), places where people can use pre-obtained drugs in a controlled environment with point-of-care support from staff trained to help participants to make their drug use safer, to prevent and to respond to overdoses, and to provide linkage to health and supportive services.
Efforts have already begun. Last year, over 100 healthcare providers released a letter in support of SCS, as advocates traveled throughout the state with a model SCS, which garnered statewide media attention. New York State’s Department of Health has begun a conversation about launching a handful of research SCS pilot programs. And, the New York City Council allocated $100,000 last year to fund a feasibility study that still has not been released.
“The opioid epidemic has New York State on the ropes, and we have an obligation to hit back with the most powerful tools in the harm reduction arsenal. Supervised Consumption Sites may not be a silver bullet, but across the world their record of saving lives is incredible – no one has ever died in a safer consumption site,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF- Manhattan), Chair of the Assembly Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. “Addiction is a crippling disease that has touched too many families in our state, and we must open this pathway to treatment and recovery.”
“Supervised injection facilities are an effective harm reduction strategy,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried. “They are an important setting for connecting people with health care and social services, and I look forward to working with VOCAL and Assembly Alcohol and Drug Abuse Chair Linda Rosenthal to move this issue forward.”
“Acacia bears first hand witness to the fact that the communities we serve continue to suffer the struggles of the opioid epidemic that is impacting not only New York State, but also our nation. Acacia is a pioneer in this arena, combatting this epidemic since the 1960s. We have seen families ripped apart, parents lose their children. Acacia believes our best chance at winning this battle is to meet clients where they are. We stand alongside NYS leaders in working together to save as many lives as we can!” stated Raul Russi, Chief Executive Officer Acacia Network, one of New York’s largest drug treatment programs.
“Countries around the world, including our neighbors to the North, have embraced the operation of Safer Consumption Spaces. These are medical facilities that allow people to utilize drugs in a safe, supervised environment. While this might be counter-intuitive and hard to wrap our heads around, we must remember this crisis requires us to stay focused on saving lives. There is no room for moral debates that delay life-saving interventions. Saving lives is our one and only priority. Dating back to the 1970’s over 100 legally sanctioned Safer Consumption Spaces have opened in cities around the world. To date there has not been one fatal overdose in any of these. While people are at the facilities drugs can be tested to ensure they are not synthetically manufactured, medical needs can be addressed, counseling is available, and in some sites detox centers are housed in the same building. This provides a crucial entry point for individuals who want immediate access to treatment,” said Chief (Ret.) Brendan Cox, former Chief of the Albany, NY Police Department. While the research around the efficacy and effectiveness of public health responses overwhelmingly shows positive results, the same cannot be said for criminal justice responses. The War on Drugs is not the answer – for the lives of our loved ones we must embrace better, evidence based approaches firmly rooted in Public Health.”
“We can’t sit back any longer while our friends and loved ones die when we know there is more we could be doing, right now, to protect those most at risk,” said Shantae Owens, a member of VOCAL-NY and formerly homeless injection drug user. “The sooner New York allows safer consumption spaces, the more lives we’ll save.”
“In a moment when New York State’s overdose crisis continues to grow–with overdose deaths killing more New Yorkers than traffic accidents, homicides, and suicide combined–we need bold thinking and action,” said Kassandra Frederique, New York State director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “If we want to save lives, reduce criminalization, and end racial disparities, we need comprehensive, innovative, and forward-thinking approaches like safer consumption spaces. New York is in a unique position to step up and implement innovative drug policies rooted in science, compassion, and public health as we did with syringe exchanges before. It is the time for New York’s elected officials to lead the way in implementing drug policies that can succeed.”
“Exponents, a drug treatment organization in NYC, supports the availability of Safe Injection Facilities in NY State. The evidence is clear, SIFs save lives by reducing overdoses and disease transmission. They also present treatment and public health counselors an opportunity to engage these individuals and be of help to them,” said Howard Josepher, CEO of Exponents.
“It is time to admit that the interventions that we have traditionally relied on to deal with substance use have failed us. We cannot incarcerate our way out of this problem and treatment as it is currently practiced is inadequate to the situation at hand. New models and a new vision are required going forward. Harm reduction interventions like safer consumption services are the future and are needed not only in large metropolitan areas of the state, but in rural areas that have been decimated by the wave of death that the current overdose crisis has left in its wake. It is time to make policy on the basis of research, data and compassion, not fear and superstition. It is time to do the right thing, even if it scares us,” said John Barry, Executive Director of Southern Tier AIDS Program.
“We as medical providers chose to dedicate our lives to helping people, preventing illness and most importantly saving lives. The implementation of safe consumption spaces with associated harm reduction approaches in the opioid epidemic treatment spectrum represents compassionate treatment, sound public health policy, and good fiscal use of resources,” said Samara M. Gabree, nurse practitioner at Whitney Young Medical of Albany NY.
“Across New York, communities are recognizing that we can’t end overdose without asking the tough questions and making hard decisions. The Safer Consumption Services Act challenges us all to respond with empathy for people struggling with opioids, and with hope for a safer New York for everyone. It’s time to commit to creating the spaces we need to save the lives and restore the dignity of the most vulnerable members of our communities,” said Daniel Raymond, Deputy Director of Harm Reduction Coalition.
“If the AIDS epidemic taught us anything about drug addiction, we learned that dead addicts don’t recover. We also learned that people who use drugs best find their way to wholeness when offered nonjudgmental services that meet their basic needs. New York State should have the courage to at least establish pilot SIFs for the purpose of testing their efficacy, not just in preventing overdose deaths, but also as a gateway to drug user health and low threshold treatment,” said Charles King CEO of Housing Works.
“As a mother who watched her children struggle with addiction for a decade, I feel a safe consumption site would have allowed my sons to access recovery resources sooner,” said Laurie Quinn, mother of a family member in recovery.
“Safe Consumption Spaces offer significant benefits to both public health and public safety, representing a necessary move away from criminalization and toward health and safety. In fact, these spaces more effectively address many of the issues that punitive coercive approaches aim to, such as public consumption, fatal overdose, and access to treatment and supportive services,” said Keith Brown, MPH, Director, Health & Harm Reduction, Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice.
Every seven hours, someone dies of a drug overdose in New York City.
Nearly 100 SIFs exist around the world. They have been rigorously evaluated and shown to steeply reduce overdose deaths, HIV and viral hepatitis infections, and public disorder, and to increase access to drug treatment and other healthcare. Millions of injections having taken place at some of them, yet not one overdose death has been documented in these facilities.
Momentum for safer consumption spaces is building across the country, with officials in Philadelphia announcing their plan to create Comprehensive User Engagement Sites (CUES), effectively safer consumption spaces, at a press conference on January 23, 2018. Last year, San Francisco’s city health officials said they could potentially open safe injection sites within 8-12 months. Kings County in Washington State has been approved to open an SCS. Maryland, Vermont, California, Maine and Massachusetts have all introduced legislation to approve the sites. Beyond academic research, a growing body of editorial boards and opinion pieces have highlighted the need: New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, US News, Huffington Post, Baltimore Sun, Seattle Times, Bloomberg News, LA Times, The Nation, and the Boston Globe.
The American Medical Association (AMA) voted to support the development of pilot safer consumption spaces. The New York Academy of Medicine and Massachusetts Medical Society also both publicly support safer consumption spaces, and the Journal of the American Medical Association published a review of research supporting safer consumption spaces. In April 2017, more than 100 New York City healthcare professionals signed an open letter in support of safer consumption spaces, urging elected representatives to adopt them as a public health intervention to prevent overdose deaths.
Despite increased spending on treatment, in New York State deaths from drug overdoses increased 71 percent between 2010 and 2015. From 2013 to 2015, 7,213 New Yorkers across the state died of overdose. New York City saw more than 1,300 overdose deaths in 2016 alone–a 46 percent increase from 2015 and the sixth straight year of increased overdose rate.
For more background on the campaign for supervised injection facilities, visit www.SIFNYC.org.